In my last post, I shared some Eastern wisdom from Sogyal Rinpoche's great book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I really enjoyed reading it, if for no other reason than that it gave me an entirely new perspective on death. I find that Western grief books almost always tell you that grief is forever, that you will always be grieving to some degree. In the Eastern tradition, however, the approach to grief is noticeably different — we can learn to let go of our dead spouse and go on with living.
Tonight's post will be about grieving a sudden death. While Deb's death was far from sudden, I have now met a good number of widow/ers whose spouse did die suddenly. Sogyal shares some important grieving advice which will hopefully help you to heal more quickly:
[from pages 312-313]:
Facing loss alone in our society is very different. And all the usual feelings of grief are magnified intensely in the case of a sudden death, or a suicide. It reinforces the sense that the bereaved is powerless in any way to help their loved one who is gone. It is very important for survivors of sudden death to go and see the body, otherwise it can be difficult to realize that death has actually happened. If possible, people should sit quietly by the body, to say what they need to, express their love, and start to say goodbye.
If this is not possible, bring out a photo of the person who has just died and begin the process of saying goodbye, completing the relationship, and letting go. Encourage those who have suffered the sudden death of a loved one to do this, and it will help them to accept the new, searing reality of death. Tell them too of these ways I've been describing of helping a dead person, simple ways they too can use, instead of sitting hopelessly going over again and again the moment of death in silent frustration and self-recrimination.
In the case of a sudden death, the survivors may often experience wild and unfamiliar feelings of anger at what they see as the cause of the death. Help them express that anger, because if it is held inside, sooner or later it will plunge them into a chronic depression. Help them to let go of the anger and uncover the depths of pain that hide behind it. Then they can begin the painful but ultimately healing task of letting go.
It happens often too that someone is left after the death of a loved one feeling intense guilt, obsessively reviewing mistakes in the past relationship, or torturing themselves about what they might have done to prevent the death. Help them to talk about their feelings of guilt, however irrational and crazy they may seem. Slowly these feelings will diminish, and they will come to forgive themselves and go on with their lives.
I'll finish up tonight's post with another quick excerpt from the book, this time dealing with the perspective of grief as a gift. All too often we experience grief as some terrible emotion that we just want to get rid of at all costs. Perhaps the following perspective can help you change this desire to run away from grief. I healed a tremendous amount when I wanted to find out what lay on the other side of grief:
[from page 316]:
You may even come to feel mysteriously grateful toward your suffering, because it gives you such an opportunity of working through it and transforming it. Without it you would never have been able to discover that hidden in the nature and depths of suffering is a treasure of bliss. The times when you are suffering can be those when you are most open, and where you are extremely vulnerable can be where your greatest strength really lies.
Say to yourself then: "I am not going to run away from this suffering. I want to use it in the best and richest way I can, so that I can become more compassionate and more helpful to others." Suffering, after all, can teach us about compassion. If you suffer you will know how it is when others suffer. And if you are in a position to help others, it is through your suffering that you will find the understanding and compassion to do so.
So whatever you do, don't shut off your pain; accept your pain and remain vulnerable. However desperate you become, accept your pain as it is, because it is in fact trying to hand you a priceless gift: the chance of discovering, through spiritual practice, what lies behind sorrow. "Grief," Rumi wrote, "can be the garden of compassion." If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life's search for love and wisdom.
And don't we know, only too well, that protection from pain doesn't work, and that when we try to defend ourselves from suffering, we only suffer more and don't learn what we can from the experience? As Rilke wrote, the protected heart that is "never exposed to loss, innocent and secure, cannot know tenderness; only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free, through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery."
In my grief work, I wanted to learn what grief had to show me, and I only wanted to learn it once! Over time, I was able to look at grief as a friend and companion; an experience to be embraced, not a torment to be endured.